Maple Leafs’ Commentary: Is Nylander For Gibson a Good Deal?

On one of our recent posts about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ moves in the offseason, reader SR made the following comment: “Nylander for Gibson as starters makes sense!”

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We’re not at all sure this is a deal that brewing. Nor is this necessarily a deal we’re advocating. However, it got us wondering if a deal like that might make sense for both teams? Here’s how it might shake out for both teams and both players.

What the Maple Leafs Get

In John Gibson, the Maple Leafs would get a 29-year-old goalie that has played 378 regular-season games and 26 playoff games over nine seasons for the Anaheim Ducks. He has a career save percentage of .915 percent and a goals-against-average of 2.67 in the regular season and a save percentage of .912 percent and a goals-against-average of 2.80 in the playoffs. 

John Gibson Anaheim Ducks
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the 2015 to 2018 seasons, Gibson’s save percentage was above .920% and his goals-against-average was around 2.25, playing behind a very good Ducks team. Gibson played great in the Ducks’ run to the Western Conference finals in 2016-17 posting a 9-5 record in 16 starts, with a .918 save percentage, and a goals-against-average of 2.59.

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He has not been so good lately. In his last three seasons, he has been a steady .904% in save percentage. His goals-against-average has been right around the 3.00 mark during that time. This past season his save percentage remained at .904% but his goals-against average went up to 3.19.

The drop in Gibson’s performance coincides directly with the performance of the team in front of him. In the last three seasons, the Ducks have not been very good. The team is 23 games under .500 in those three years. In the three seasons where Gibson was over .920 in save percentage, the Ducks were 63 games over .500.

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We think it’s safe to say that Gibson would be more the Gibson of old playing for a top-five team like the Maple Leafs.  

What the Ducks Get

In William Nylander, the Anaheim Ducks would get a 26-year-old, 35-goal scorer, and point-a-game player who could play either center or wing. He would immediately become the Ducks’ top point-getter. He would slot in nicely alongside 20-year-old Trevor Zegras, a ninth-overall draft pick in the 2019 draft, who scored 23 goals and 61 points, and 24-year-old Troy Terry who led the Ducks in scoring this past season with 37 goals and 67 points. 

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the Maple Leafs, Nylander has spent his career in the shadow of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. With the Ducks, he would be able to show what he can do as a team leader.

Considering the Contracts

Nylander has two more seasons left on his six-year $6.96 million contract. After receiving a $3.5 million bonus cheque on July 1, his remaining pay will only be $8.5 million over the remaining two years of his deal, or $4.25 million per season.

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The Ducks have just under $40 million of salary-cap space left in the 2022-23 season and even more space moving forward. They would be able to afford any raise Nylander might have to come in his next contract. 

Gibson will be going into the fourth year of an eight-year deal that pays him $6.4 million per season. He has the term that Maple Leafs’ general manager really seems to covet.

Replacements for Each Team

The Ducks have 6-foot-6, 28-year-old Anthony Stolarz to replace Gibson in the net. Stolarz had a breakout season in 2021-22 with the Ducks, posting a 12-8-3 record with a .917 save percentage and a 2.67 goals-against-average in 28 games. He is signed for one more season for $950,000.  

Anthony Stolarz Anaheim Ducks
Anthony Stolarz, Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),

It might be a bit of a gamble for them to go fully to Stolarz. They do, however, have the salary-cap room to go after UFA’s like Darcy Kuemper, Ville Husso, or Jack Campbell. 

Should Nylander leave, the Maple Leafs could go all-in on Ilya Mikheyev to replace him. Mikheyev, who’s a UFA, and likely to be heading for a multi-year deal in the $3.5 – $4 million range has the speed to replace Nylander. He also has at least some of the scoring ability to replace Nylander. After two seasons of suffering major hand and wrist injuries that hampered his shooting, Mikheyev potted 21 goals in 53 games this season, a 32-goal, 82-game pace.  

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That said, Mikheyev lacks the playmaking abilities Nylander possesses. However, he makes up for it by being a better 200-foot player with superior defensive skills. Despite scoring 80 points in 81 games this season, Nylander was a minus-9 in plus/minus while Mikheyev was a plus-16. 

The Maple Leafs would likely need more salary-cap to be able to afford Mikheyev. That could be accomplished by somehow removing Petr Mrazek’s salary-cap hit. 

Nylander’s absence would also leave room for the Maple Leafs to promote Nick Robertson. We aren’t saying Robertson could replace Nylander, just that the roster opening would be a chance for him to show what he can do. 

The Bottom Line

A Nylander for Gibson straight-up deal would give the Ducks, a team that only scored 228 goals in 2021-22 (27 goals fewer than the league average), a player who can make that difference up himself. At the same time, Nylander could help Zegras and Terry maximize their abilities.

Toronto Maple Leafs William Nylander Boston Bruins Tuukka Rask
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing William Nylander and Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask watch the puck (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Obviously trades are always a gamble; however, such a trade would give the Maple Leafs an experienced established goaltender and take away a huge question mark going into the 2022-23 season. If such a deal could be made, it might be good for both teams and both players. Although many fans of either team would not like it, such is the risk of trading away or for any major player.

 [Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]